Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Movies watched, week of June 17-23, 2007

Halloween, John Carpenter, 1978

After seeing the trailer for Rob Zombie’s forthcoming remake of Halloween, I decided I really needed to check out the original, which I’d managed to overlook until last week. While it’s undoubtedly a great classic horror movie, it suffers the usual genre-inherent dilemma: the villain is more interesting than the victims. I found myself rooting for the creepy masked psycho, cheering as he silenced another screechy, annoying airhead with the plunge of a butcher knife—which kind of diminishes the scariness.

Whereas I’ve shunned recent remakes like The Hills Have Eyes and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in order to avoid seeing these movies ruined, I’m actually curious to see Zombie’s Halloween. Instead of a straight remake, it features original material that addresses many of the questions I had about Michael, spending more time exploring his character and psychosis. While that could potentially ruin the mystique, I’m interested to see what he comes up with.

Hostel, Eli Roth, 2005

I’m not a particularly big fan of modern horror movies, preferring Hitchcockian thrillers and 70s slashers, but Roth’s Thanksgiving trailer in Grindhouse roused my interest in his previous work. The premise (college students backpacking through Europe fall victim to a murder-for-profit ring in which people pay upwards of $25,000 for the privilege to kill a person in any way they like) is intriguing but poorly executed. And as described above, the fact that I couldn’t stand the frat boy types I was supposed to be identifying with detracted from the degree of terror I might have experienced. While there is a lot of fake blood employed (enough for one of the killers to slip on it and drop a chainsaw on his legs), this seemed pretty tame compared to the gruesome scenes I had braced myself for.

Factory Girl, George Hickenlooper, 2006

I’m speechless at how appalling this movie is. Having read Jean Stein’s Edie, I know that there’s definitely a compelling story behind the Sedgwicks, but for some reason the filmmakers decided to force it into a clichéd Hollywood cookie cutter, reducing Edie’s life to something along the lines of “pure, good girl with a dark past comes to the big city and is destroyed by the evil artists.” The plot concentrates on a couple of minor footnotes in Edie’s life and glosses over more significant aspects—her affair with Bob Dylan, which is represented in the film as a major milestone, takes up about two of Edie’s 430 pages, and is considerably skewed from actual events. The film barely touches on the Sedgwick family history, excepting brief mentions of Edie’s brother Minty and how her father supposedly molested her, drastically oversimplifying the complexities of her family dynamic.

The stiff, stilted dialogue (“I think Warhol’s paintings are changing the world!”) is particularly cringe-worthy, as are the low blows directed at Warhol’s work and his associates.’s review accurately conveys the degree of disgust I experienced as this mockery unfolded before my eyes, perhaps better than I could have said it myself: “Factory Girl isn’t just a bad movie, it’s a 90-minute insult to the culture it pretends to be capturing.”

The City of Photographers, Sebastián Moreno Mardones, 2006

This documentary, featured in Lincoln Center’s Human Rights Watch International Film Festival, chronicles the legacy of a group of photographers working under the Pinochet regime, who courageously took to the streets to document the horrors of Chile’s military dictatorship. Their work, which is not only politically enlightening but aesthetically beautiful, aided in making the rest of the world aware of the Chilean people’s plight through the distribution of photographs to the foreign press.

In addition to heightening public awareness, the photographs put a human face to the statistics. In particular, one photographer is shown at work creating a mural comprised of family photos of the dead. Instead of 3,000 anonymous victims, we’re presented with people on vacation at the beach, enjoying a beer, smiling with loved ones—3,000 real people with their own experiences and memories that were abruptly silenced, adding a chilling, deeper layer to the horror.

, Lars von Trier, 1987

In Lars von Trier’s second feature film, a screenwriter and director (played by Epidemic’s screenwriter and directorthe postmodernism is already evident), lose their 220 page script entitled The Cop and the Whore due to a computer error that erases the document. They can’t remember enough of the plot to recreate it, so they work day and night on a new script, with only days to complete it. What they come up with is a medical thriller about a horrifying disease of epidemic proportions. The protagonist, Dr. Mesmer (also portrayed by von Trier), tries to treat the disease but inadvertently ends up spreading it. Epidemic blurs the lines of fiction and reality, as the plot of the film within the film begins to bleed into the outer frames (it seems that the script’s creators are also unintentionally spreading the disease in real life).

Epidemic is a kind of microcosm of von Trier’s work as a whole, showcasing the wide range of his aesthetics. He employs gorgeously arranged shots for the film within the film, while the framed story about the writers is shot in grainy black and white with hand-held cameras and natural lighting. Many of the themes explored in von Trier’s later works are present (hospitals, for example), as are his writing methods and style of humor.

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